Gianni Subba (9-2) knows he is incredibly fortunate.
The 25-year-old flies from city-to-city to train with elite martial arts camps, and competes against the top contenders in ONE Championship.
In fact, he is scheduled to meet Reece “Lightning” McLaren (10-5) in the main event of ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY this coming Friday, 9 March, at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The winner will secure a flyweight world title opportunity in the future.
However, the flyweight was a world-traveler long before he began his budding career on the global stage.
A Dream Is Born
Though born in Hawaii, Subba moved to Kuala Lumpur in his mother’s homeland of Malaysia when he was a toddler, where he spent his formative years with his sister and brother, Keanu.
Because they were different, Subba and his siblings experienced bouts of bullying, so they began training in taekwondo to counter its negative effects. As it turns out, all of them excelled at it, and the boys were so talented they even won a few medals at local tournaments.
When he was 15, however, his Malaysian experience was put on hold, and a new adventure was waiting in the wings. It would be an incredibly daunting one, as Subba and his brother were sent to the United States to study – on their own.
“We lived in a one-bedroom apartment when I was 15 and my brother was 13,” he remembers. “I think my parents wanted us to have a better education than what we could get in Malaysia.”
With such a lack of parental supervision, it is incredible how the two were responsible enough to juggle their studies, basic chores, and acquiring the bare necessities to live, all by themselves.
“Trust me, I am surprised I graduated,” Subba admits with a laugh.
It was also during this period that he fell in love with the idea of competing in martial arts. Cage promotions were breaking through in North America, with regional and national shows flooding the scene. He even remembers watching it on television one day and thought, ‘Whoa, these people can do that?’
The more he watched, the more he wanted to pursue it, and a dream was born.
A Global Pursuit
At first, Subba and his little brother could not afford to train at a proper gym, so they were forced to improvise. They went to Wal-Mart, bought some 12 ounce boxing gloves, and learned techniques off of YouTube.
Eventually, after the younger Subba returned to Malaysia to be with their ailing cousin, Gianni stumbled upon what he was looking for.
“In Salt Lake City,” he says, “I finally found the training in basic boxing, kickboxing, and jiu-jitsu that I had been wanting.”
He immediately took to the training, and knew he wanted to compete. But his age held him back.
“I was 17, and needed my parents’ signatures to compete, because I was not yet 18,” he explains. “Since my parents were not there in America, I could not do it. So I told myself that I would just keep training, and once I turned 18, I would compete.”
Subba’s plans were put on the back-burner just a little longer, however. Once he graduated from high school, he returned to his birthplace, where he attended BYU: Hawaii for a year, all while working full-time to pay for school. That lifestyle engulfed most of his time, making it seemingly impossible to train.
Meanwhile, he followed his brother’s own exploits across the ocean in Asia. A young Keanu made his professional debut on short notice in 2011 against Malaysian pioneer AJ “Pyro” Lias Mansor, ultimately losing via decision. Despite the defeat, his younger sibling served as an inspiration.
“My brother had been back in KL for a while, and they offered him a contract to compete. The whole time I thought if my brother could to this, then maybe I could be doing it too.”
Subba decided to leave college so he could focus exclusively on making his dream of martial arts glory a reality.
“The whole time I was in university, the only thing I thought about was trying to compete,” he states. “I moved back to Malaysia in May 2012, and started training full-time.”
The two brothers trained together at Monarchy MMA in Kuala Lumpur and, four months after heading back to the city he considers home, Subba finally had a match lined up. He was going to compete in a local promotion, and was deep into his preparation.
Then, there was a sudden change in plans.
“I was supposed to participate on this smaller show called ‘Ultimate Beatdown.’ And then, shortly before it, ONE called me up and asked if I wanted to compete on three weeks’ notice in Singapore against a Singaporean,” he remembers.
Needless to say, he jumped at the opportunity. He met Bruce Loh in his professional debut at ONE: RISE OF KINGS in October 2012, and needed just 33 seconds to knock his rival out. Even though it was quick, Subba says it was like a dream.
“The win was a validation,” he says. “You always think you can maybe do this, but you also always have doubts going into matches, especially competing professionally on a big stage. It gave me validation that maybe I could do this full-time.”
Now, five and a half incredibly successful years later, Subba is embarking on the biggest challenge of his career. He meets McLaren at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY this coming Friday in Kuala Lumpur, and he can punch his ticket to a flyweight world title shot with a win.
“I want to prove I am the number one contender,” he says. “I know that I am, and now, I have to go out there and prove it.”
Subba may have traveled all his life, and he may currently train at Bali MMA in Indonesia, but he will always return “home” to Kuala Lumpur. On 9 March, it would be the perfect place for his dreams to move one step closer to becoming true.